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4 Key Antioxidants for a Strong Skin Microbiome

By Gabriel Espinoza, MD

In this article:


‌‌‌‌What is Skin Microbiome?

The skin is the body’s largest organ. It functions as the body's physical barrier from harm by foreign organisms or harmful substances. 

Your skin microbiome is made up of a diverse milieu of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, and even fungi. Most of these are harmless, and create a symbiotic relationship with us, providing pivotal functions like helping with our scent and even strengthening our immune system.

Keeping the skin and the complex microbiome healthy depends on the nutrients you eat and the environment around you.

‌‌‌‌Anatomy of the Skin

The skin has three layers including the epidermis, which is made up of staggered fully matured skin cells. It provides the first layer of protection with millions of germs residing there in perfect balance. 

In the slightly deeper dermal layer, sweat glands, oil glands, and hair follicles are found, along with tiny blood vessels that bring nutrients and carry waste to and from the skin top layer.

These also contain a variety of germs including bacteria and fungi, and these provide that scent when you work out or sweat. The deepest level, made predominately of fatty tissue, is the subcutaneous layer where bigger blood vessels reside. Fewer microorganisms are found here, but this part is essential for skin turgor.

Nutrition is a reflection on the skin since the skin reflects the body’s well-being. Keeping a balanced microbiome is important since this symbiotic relationship helps your skin look healthy. Lack of nutrients may lead to these microorganisms causing more damage than good.

‌‌‌‌Skin Hydration

Keeping the skin hydrated is essential for its elasticity, as more than 50% of your cells are made up of water. Dehydrated skin can look dry, flaky, and tight. It can also cause itchy and cracked skin, allowing bacteria to penetrate an intact barrier leading to skin infections like cellulitis. Additionally, to maintain its elasticity and tightness, dehydrated skin signals the oil glands to release more oil, which can lead to clogged pores that can become infected.

You will know if you are adequately hydrated if you are rarely thirsty or your urine is colorless to a light yellow color. Some people may need a few glasses of water, and others may need up to 15 glasses. This all depends on your level of activity. Water itself can start tasting bland, so water flavorings are great ways to add a twist to your daily water consumption.

‌‌‌‌Maintaining Clean Skin

Just as important as it is to keep your skin hydrated by drinking plenty of water, it is also important to keep the surface clean and dry. Excess moisture can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria and fungi that can cause local skin infections. This is particularly important after sweating since moisture in nooks and crannies tends to have a lot of friction and less access to light, leading to bacteria and fungi overgrowth. This may lead to fungal infections like ringworm, skin candida, and athletes’ foot to name a few. That is why it is important to keep the surface of the skin dry and wear moisture-wicking fabric, like micro-modal and cotton.

Keeping your hands clean is also essential for skin health as they are how we reach and connect with the outside world. We also touch our faces with them on average of more than 10 times per hour. Thus, it is important to wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with antibacterial soap and water. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Ensure that when you are using hand sanitizer to also use a non-scented moisturizing lotion since alcohol may lead to dry and cracked skin and can then lead to irritated skin and may promote small local skin infections.

‌‌‌‌Proteins Are Important for the Skin

Your skin microbiome needs a strong foundation to flourish. The foundation of the skin is made of collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body. It's also the protein that is responsible for the skin’s structure, firmness, and strength. The normal aging damage of skin may be reversed with collagen supplementation.

When ingested, collagen supplementation may support the skin’s hydration and elasticity since the protein is broken down into its main building blocks and deposited in the skin. Compared to placebo, collagen supplementation may even help lessen the appearance of eye wrinkles. The recommended daily intake varies, with studies suggesting 1.5–2.5 grams per day, to some even going up to 10 grams per day.

‌‌‌‌4 Key Antioxidants for the Skin

Our skin is subjected to a high amount of oxidative stress, mostly from UV light exposure, but also from ordinary metabolic reactions and cosmetics. Our skin microbiome is held in a delicate balance where too much oxidative stress may lead to unhealthy skin and even faster aging. Therefore, it is important to eat a diet that is rich in antioxidants and full of the following vitamins.

Vitamin C and Anti-Aging

Vitamin C is an essential component of a healthy human diet because the body cannot make it. Vitamin C is found in fresh fruits, citrus, and many chili peppers. Vitamin C may be beneficial in topical serums since it is the main component of the collagen protein that is found on the skin. It may help with skin discoloration and anti-aging sun protection. Orally, vitamin C helps as an antioxidant and may have benefits in preventing damage to skin cells caused by free radicals.

Vitamin E’s Protective Effects

Vitamin E is another antioxidant vitamin that may help in the antiaging effects by protecting the collagen protein as well as the fatty tissue under the dermal layer. It can be found in safflower oil, corn, soy, and some types of meat. Vitamins E and C can work synergistically and may help in stabilizing cellular damage that occurs when the body is exposed to UV rays when outdoors.

Vitamin A and Sun Protection

Vitamin A is from derivatives known as carotenoids include beta-carotene, lycopene, and retinol. They are remarkably effective antioxidants and have been shown to protect against sun damage. Beta-carotene can be found in carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, mangoes, and papayas. Supplementation with beta-carotene may help in reducing the severity of skin burns after too much sun exposure. 

Lycopene, unlike beta-carotene, is found in fruits with a reddish color, like tomatoes, watermelons, or other red fruit. When exposed to excess UV light, lycopene is the first to be destroyed, and thus supplementation with it may help prevent further sun damage.

Retinol is another important carotenoid for the human body as the body cannot synthesize. It is essential for the growth of new skin cells and the maintenance of the top layers of the skin. In the diet, it can be found in fatty foods, including milk, egg yolk, cheese, and fatty cheese. Both oral and topical variants of retinol may help avoid advanced skin aging that can be seen in too much sun exposure.

Vitamin D and Inflammation

The human body can make its own vitamin D mainly through sun exposure since the skin is the major site for its synthesis. Vitamin D has many roles in the human body including helping with the immune response and regulating inflammation.

As the body ages, the body’s ability to produce vitamin D declines, and thus supplementation is key, especially if indoors for prolonged periods. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends at least 200 IU for adults and a higher dose of 400 IU for those 50 and over. A safe level of vitamin D is no more than 10,000 IU to 40,000 IU  per day.

‌‌‌‌Herbal Antioxidants for the Skin

Green tea has been shown to have some benefits for skin health. Topical formulations that contain green tea have been shown to improve the elasticity of the skin. It may also help prevent form the damage of excessive sun damage.

Curcumin, the main component in turmeric, may support the body through oxidative stress. It can be added as a spice to your favorite meals, can be drunk as milk teas, and be taken as supplements. Spices that help with inflammation may be beneficial for people who have chronic inflammatory skin conditions. 

‌‌‌‌Can Probiotics Benefit the Skin?

Like the gut’s microflora, the skin’s microbiome is also in a steady balance. It has been hypothesized that supplementing with probiotics, especially lactobacilli and enterococci, which are natural residents of the intestinal tract may confer some health benefits to the skin microbiome. Studies show that a healthy gut microbiome can influence the immune response and lessen inflammation, which may help lower the chances of getting skin infections like acne as well as symptoms of other chronic inflammatory-related skin conditions.

Remember, your body, your skin, and your skin’s microbiome need a healthy balance. Eating a healthy diet full of vitamins and antioxidants will help strengthen your skin and keep the microbiome healthy. Frequent handwashing will keep you and your loved ones safe. Finally, remember to keep the surface of your skin dry while you hydrate to keep your skin looking young and healthy.

References:

  1. Andersson T., Ertürk Bergdahl G., Saleh K. et al. Common skin bacteria protect their host from oxidative stress through secreted antioxidant RoxP. Scientific Reports, 2019; 9(1). doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-40471-3
  2. Bolke L., Schlippe G, Gerß J, Voss W. A collagen supplement improves skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density: results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, blind study. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2494. doi: 10.3390/nu11102494
  3. Grice EA, Segre JA. The skin microbiome [published correction appears in Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 Aug;9(8):626]. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011;9(4):244-253. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2537
  4. Prescott SL, Larcombe DL, Logan AC, et al. The skin microbiome: impact of modern environments on skin ecology, barrier integrity, and systemic immune programming. World Allergy Organ J. 2017;10(1):29. doi: 10.1186/s40413-017-0160-5
  5. Bolke L, Schlippe G, Gerß J, Voss W. A collagen supplement improves skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density: results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, blind study. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2494. doi:10.3390/nu11102494
  6. Schagen SK, Zampeli VA, Makrantonaki E, Zouboulis CC. Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):298-307. doi: 10.4161/derm.22876
  7. Water: How much should you drink every day? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256. Published September 6, 2017. Accessed September 14, 2020.

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